Dysfunctional families have always got it going in literature. I have always loved families that are bad, slightly not okay in the head and always not prone to doing the right things. Relationships play a vital role in any book. I think that is the base of a plot, well more or less so. So this time when I finished a book on relationships and family, I began thinking of the eccentric ways of my family and how do we behave in situations as a unit or rather when thrown into situations just as the family is in this book.
A mother and her two teenage children are sitting around the dinner table, waiting for their father to make an appearance. The feast is ready – the mussel feast – for their father’s promotion. The father is delayed. As the night turns on, the wait extends itself. The father is late and the family’s secrets and dirty laundry is out to the readers. That in short, is the plot of the story, and it cannot end here. There is more – the family has moved to West Germany, escaping the East, just before the fall of the Berlin Wall. This is almost representative of the controlling attitude of the father and the way the entire family is affected by his behaviour.
What I loved about this book is the way it is written but of course. The sentences almost merge into one another and sometimes the transition between the past and the present is too quick and yet as a reader I did not feel lost or disconnected at any point. In fact, at most times while reading the book I wished it were longer than one hundred and twelve pages. Birgit’s book was a rage in Germany when published – almost became a classic and I could see why. The writing is funny and dark at the same time, which is something I haven’t read in a while, so the read was refreshing and contemplative. One more thing that struck me and I again connect to the political angle of the book is that the characters are nameless, almost again reflective of the state of the household and the country.
The characters were outlined superbly throughout the book and what hit the most was the surprise element at the end and how each character comes to their own. The book is narrated by the daughter and yet all of them get their due. I would have however loved to also read the story from the others’ perspective, more so from the “missing” father’s point of view. He is not present and yet looms large, almost like Godot. I cannot end the review without mentioning the fantastic effort of the translator Jamie Bulloch, who also translated Portrait of the Mother as a Young Woman and flawlessly so. The Mussel Feast is an engaging read, which will make you think long after you have finished reading the book. A gem of a read which should not be missed.